November 01, 2012


November 1, 2012


The Call
by Patricia Cornelius
The Bakehouse
October 27. Season: October 13 – 27, 2012.

Enterprising local company Junglebean, founded several years ago by recent AC Arts acting graduates Renee Gentle, Nic English and Tim Overton, have already  made their mark with productions of Neil Labute’s Autobahn and Jim Cartwright’s Two but it is their preference for Australian works that is especially refreshing. Recently they staged Adelaide director and writer, Michael Hill’s fine play Boxing Day Test and now, they have turned to the excellent Melbourne playwright Patricia Cornelius for The Call.

Catching the final performance of the season at the ever-steadfast Bakehouse, I was pleased to be hearing strong Australian accents on stage, especially written by a playwright such as Cornelius, whose work with the Melbourne Workers Theatre and productions such as Who’s Afraid of the Working Class (later to become the feature film Blessed) and her own plays Love, Boy Overboard  and now The Call confirm her as an authentic Australian playwright with a strong affinity for social justice who provides a voice for those who cannot or rarely speak for themselves.

The Call is set in present-day Australia, just where is not clear. It could be a small town or on the outskirts of a large centre. The characters are already marginalised and fraying even further. They work in scungy process jobs – a chicken farm in the opening scene, also in a tannery and a blood and bone fertiliser factory where the conditions are foul and demoralizing.

There are other minor characters but the play focuses on the friendship between  three mates – Chunk, Aldo and Gary, as well as Gary’s hopeful, then deteriorating, marriage to Denise, a young woman who understands and is wise to life’s pitfalls but, painfully, gets stuck in them anyway. The play tracks the path of these young people whose spirit and resilience is gradually eroded by disappointment, then defeat. As work becomes more repetitive and meaningless, as opportunities dwindle, as the future looks bleaker the young men turn to alcohol and then cocaine and heroin.

But The Call is not just a grim naturalistic descent into the lower depths, it sparks with the energy and promise of its characters – and it is this recognition that  director David Mealor develops and makes vivid. Mealor is an accomplished director and he has first-rate collaborators in this enterprise. Designer Kathryn Sproul‘s set is sparse and thrifty, admirably suiting the confines of the tiny Bakehouse stage. Three vertical rectangular screens generally locate the action but there is little literal detail beyond a couch on which the three friends get high – and then plummet even further. Ben Flett’s lighting and sound, including live guitar feed, is energising but avoids the judgemental clichés of reefer madness.

The performances are all strong. Renee Gentle is touching as Denise, the young woman who wants to get away but falls for the dreamy boy Gary. She knows this is foolhardy, especially when she becomes pregnant, and her belief in love and family betrays her bitterly. Tim Overton, as Gary, ably spans the shift from easy-going Aussie teenager to a man embittered by demeaning work and lack of opportunity. It is this that leads to the call – of Islam, and a form of commitment that confirms his masculine pride. It is a far cry from the warmly comic opening scene of him talking intently to a battery chook, little knowing it is a portent of his own captivity.

As Chunk, Nic English is a tellingly personable version of a bright, good-looking young man who knows that his fate is set. He manoeuvers through hard drugs with the artful cynicism of the self-medicating, knowing when to reel things back to party another day. Not so Aldo (a fine performance by Guy O’Grady) who falls too deep into the panacea and has neither the wit nor will to avoid it. But  O’Grady makes us understand Aldo. He is not some bogan caricature, he’s a raucous bloke who wants to savour his life but can’t hang on to it. It is a precise, insightful portrait and yet another reminder of Guy O’Grady’s invention as an actor.

So late in the year, Junglebean and David Mealor have created another memorable Bakehouse experience. This Call invites a strong response – and, one hopes, a return season. .

Murray Bramwell

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